Any jazz pianist with the courage to record solo deserves our respect. Sans bassist and drummer, he stands naked, as vulnerable as a stand-up comic or a wire-walker who's thrown aside his net. If the soloist also happens to be an elegant classicist who combines the dazzle of Chick Corea with the formalism of Bill Evans, we listeners are doubly blessed. Enter Michael Pagan, a music prof who teaches jazz history and arranging at the University of Colorado at Boulder and doubles as one of most accomplished pianists in the region. Pagan's new CD on the Bailey-based Capri label, Nobody Else but Me, is beautifully conceived and, in places, daringly oblique. He manages, against the odds, to reinvent the much-overplayed "'Round Midnight" as sonic cubism, and his questing, nine-minute exploration of "Stella by Starlight" proves so harmonically rich and rhythmically bold that two or three hearings don't begin to plumb its depths. The Yamaha needs tuning here and there, but that's a minor complaint: On these twelve beautiful tracks, Pagan flies solo with perfect assurance. (Michael Pagan performs Saturday, April 19 at the Burnsley Hotel and Sunday, April 20 at Shakespeare's. See http://stripe.colorado.edu/~pagan.)
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